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The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence Paperback – Jan 6 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (Jan. 6 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140282025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140282023
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.3 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #62,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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As we start at the beginning, we will notice an unusual attribute of the nature of time, one that is critical to our passage to the twenty-first century. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nadav Har'El on Jan. 4 2004
Format: Paperback
Kurzweil's book tries to predict what our lives would be like in the year 2100 (yes, one of his predictions is that we'll all still be "alive" in 2100 - for the reason I put "alive" in quotes, you'll have to read the book).
A common theme you see in many science-fiction books and films that try to depict life on earth in 2100, or life of advanced aliens, is the striking similarity between the way of life of these creatures and our current lives. Star-Trek is a good example. Sure, Captain Kirk shoots a laser gun, gets teleported and eats food generated by a machine, but in his world humans (or other carbon-based life forms) still rule, travel physically in the universe, get cured by a human doctor, and so on. More unusual life forms are either relegated to one episode, or given bizarre flaws to explain their rarity (e.g., Commander Data).
So, what will earth really look like in 97 years, in 2100? What will it look like in just 17 years, in 2020? Kurzweil sets out to predict the answers to these questions, and he does so in an enjoyable writing style and using his extensive technical knowledge and visionary approach. He will shock most readers by his predictions which initially seem outlandish, but on second thought suddenly sound very reasonable and very possible - and perhaps even - undeniable.
The basic premise of this very interesting book is what Kurzweil calls "The Law of Accelerating Returns". Moore's law, stating (roughly) that the computing power of a $1000 computer doubles every 12 months, is an example of Kurzweil's more general law. But Moore law only talks about integrated circuits made from transistors - this law only became relevant in the 1960s, and will most likely stop being relevant sometime in the next decade.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Jan. 4 2004
Format: Paperback
I found Kurzweil's view of the future to be rather flat and unimaginative. What will we do when we have a computer that can do a million more computations than the average human brain? According to Kurzweil, we will use it to emulate a million human brains. Why bother? All Kurzweil seems to be able to imagine this awesome amount of computing power being used for is virtual sex and a cheap shot at immortality.
But is it really immortality? Only if you consider having a copy of yourself as having immortality. In truth, the real you, the carbon based you will eventually die anyhow.
Like most transhumanist thinkers, Kurzweil's view of the future is little more than a thinly veiled religious philosophy where technological innovation is god. Kurzweil spends much of the early part of the book emphazing how inexorable and unstoppable technological evolution is and connecting it to what passes in Transhumanist religion for the moment of Creation: the Big Bang.
It never seems to dawn on Kurzweil that there is something ironic in only engaging in virtual sex with a "lover" whose appearance you are able to freely modify at will. In what sense is this love rather than mere masturbation?
Kurzweil believes with unquestioning religious fervor that if the human brain is capable of abstract thought, then being human is completely reducible to abstract thought. He believes this so implicitly and yet so firmly that he never even bothers to really think about whether this might not be the case.
In the end, I feel the book is much like an infomercial. If you are interested in buying what Kurzweil is selling, you'll probably like it. If not, then it is merely a way to kill a few hours.
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Format: Paperback
I don't feel like writing a review so I'll keep it short and sweet. It's a very interesting read and makes you look at things from an angle you might normally not.
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Format: Paperback
This book is an exhilarating glimpse into the future of technology, with an emphasis on when and how it could ultimately affect us: "us" as vulnerable injury prone biology, us as students, us as workers, us as socialites, and perhaps most interestingly, us as mortals.
Hard science in plain terms, Kurzweil stitches in humor and optimism to keep the reading fun, but never sacrifices the basic ambition of this book; I believe that ambition is to share his well-founded exitement about the likilihood that "just around the corner" (owing to the laws of accelerating return) things are going to get real interesting, and really strange.
While I note that plenty of reviews take issue with the pace of change Kurzweil predicts, few dispute the likilihood technologies outlined in the book (Nanotechnological production, AI, man-made/machine-made alternatives to biology such as prosthetics that work as well or better than nature designed) will ever come about, or take issue with the myriad ways in which they will have a profound effect on our individual lives, society, and the world at large.
Kurzweil is an optimist, but not a blind one. He was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. Many of his tech-prophecies have come true, and he has well earned respect in the scientific community.
Even if he's somewhat "off" on timing, or the exact embodiment these technologies will take, just throwing one of your neural legs over the sweeping impact these technologies could usher in makes this book more than a worthwhile read.
Christian Hunter
Santa Barbara, California
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